To better manage plastic waste, Los Angeles is in talks with Technisoil, an innovative manufacturing company, to viably incorporate plastic into the city’s roads. Typically viewed as an ecological scourge, plastic waste can also be seen as a valuable resource when repurposed. Substituting asphalt road materials with upcycled plastic waste could spell cost savings for both road construction and waste management endeavors.
Because plastic does not degrade easily, it has now become a significant environmental threat, often entering our oceans and harming marine life. At the same time, road maintenance can be a costly enterprise. To address the two key global issues of excess plastic waste and sustainable road maintenance, Los Angeles and Technisoil are jointly piloting the use of recycled plastic in road construction plans.
The innovative method will be tested at the corner of West First Street and North Grand Avenue. First, plastic waste will be fragmented into pellets. These pellets will next be melted into a type of oil-based material, called bitumen. Bitumen is the petroleum-based binding agent in asphalt. Thus, the “plastic oil” will then be mixed in with other paving materials to create a type of plastic-infused asphalt.
What are some advantages to these plastic roads? First, they are a less expensive alternative when compared to bitumen or traditional asphalt. Because plastic-suffused asphalt reduces the amount of petroleum in asphalt, these roads require less time to assemble, making them a more financially feasible choice. Similarly, these roads have a lower carbon footprint because the repurposed plastic produces less emissions. These plastic roads are durable, have a longer lifespan and are seven times stronger than regular asphalt, translating into less need for road maintenance.
Environmentalists worry that the plastic will leach into waterways. But both the city of Los Angeles and Technisoil claim they’ve performed tests that prove otherwise.
The timing is opportune for Los Angeles to leverage recycled plastic because China has ceased accepting recyclables from the City of Angels. Rather than having plastic accumulate in Southern California landfills, this venture promises to effectively utilize plastic while concurrently alleviating waste management and road construction costs.
Should this process prove successful, it will be a model that other cities across the U.S. can implement as well. Doing so will bring the nation closer to mitigating plastic pollution while simultaneously helping to improve the country’s vast network of roads that have yet to be repaired or updated.
“This is an exciting technology and a sustainable technology,” said Keith Mozee, assistant director at the Department of Street Services. “And it’s something that we believe going forward could be game-changing if we deploy on a large scale.”
Image via Giuseppe Milo